Being a Graduate Student at Congress 2019

Thursday, April 11, 2019
Guest blog by Sharon Engbrecht, Program Assistant for Congress 2019
As a graduate student and the UBC Programming Assistant for Congress 2019, I’m excited to share my experiences of Congress. Congress can be an overwhelming experience: many new faces and events can be disorientating and might leave you feeling a bit isolated. Maybe you are presenting your first paper, or are interested in networking but don’t know where to start, or haven’t quite figured out that elevator pitch. It’s not uncommon, especially as a graduate student, to have a sense of imposter syndrome when listening to papers presented by early-career researchers, faculty, or keynotes. But, in the words of Adam Douglas, Don’t Panic. Although Congress might seem insanely complicated and intimidating, it’s really a place to share ideas and develop community. This year’s theme, “Circles of Conversation,” hopes to envision the ways in which larger research communities can come together in dialogue, debate, and even dissent to showcase creative critical engagement, including graduate students’ knowledge and experience. 
In my first year at Congress in 2016, I highlighted my Essentials Guide like an eager student, planning to attend as many open events as I could possibly manage. As a master’s student recently accepted into a Canadian PhD program, I was eager to learn more about my chosen discipline and academia in general. Although I’d signed up to attend two association conferences, I admit one of the main draws was seeing Margaret Atwood give a lecture on compassion for the School of Nursing. As a first-generation university student, Congress was enigmatic but offered a wonderous peek into the mechanisms of the Canadian academy. I remember talking with editors from university publishers who were always generous and willing to answer my questions about academic publishing. I soaked up everything I could about writing, from turning my dissertation into a book to a behind the scenes look at the research that goes into CBC’s Ideas. For me, Congress that year was like an informational interview for my PhD career. I wanted to know everything I possibly could about the outcomes of a graduate education. It fundamentally changed my approach to graduate studies. 
What I learned is that Congress offers the opportunity to immerse yourself in conversations about your discipline that will change how you approach and even work through your graduate studies, especially if you are hoping to pursue a career in academia. Alternatively, there are always discussions taking place about working beyond academe. More and more, there is a demand for graduate degrees in Alt-Ac or para-academic careers. I love that Congress creates a space and place for opportunities, for thinking outside the box, for generating new ideas about what is possible for individuals who hold graduate degrees across diverse disciplines. Because of those small meetings and chance networking opportunities, Congress can be career changing. 
I would especially encourage graduate students to take full advantage of everything on offer. Check out the MITACS sessions and “Reimagining the PhD” in Career Corner. Consider attending the Pedagogy Hub workshops and programming, including a full day symposium on integrating experiential learning into your graduate degree. And don’t miss out on “Invisible to Visible: A Symposium of Contract Faculty Work.” In short, attend as many open events as you can including at least one on campus performance! Congress brings together a multifarious group of scholars working in your field. Do your best to introduce yourself or strike up a conversation. Take advantage of the opportunity to mingle during the Presidents’ Reception. And don’t forget your associations’ Graduate Student events. While it might seem overwhelming and intimidating, you might be pleasantly surprised by the generosity of the diverse people you meet. Never would I have imagined in 2016 that I would be working with the Academic Convenor behind the scenes to coordinate the largest congress of conferences in Canada, and it all started with that first Congress and the value I found in every aspect of my experience there.
As Congress edges ever nearer, the excitement at UBC is building! This year we’ve worked hard to offer an array of opportunities for all attendees, and we look forward to welcoming everyone at this year’s Congress in Vancouver.
See you then!


Congress 2019